The Social Security Administration (SSA) said in a blog post that the agency will be “forced” to cut funding for its information technology (IT) investments if Congress ends up allotting the agency a significantly smaller budget than the White House requested for fiscal year (FY) 2023.

“The Biden-Harris Administration asked Congress for a funding anomaly of $800 million higher than our fiscal year 2022 budget,” the Nov. 22 blog post reads. “Congress provided us with $400 million, which provides enough funding to cover our fixed cost increases only through December.”

That $400 million bump, the agency said, “is not enough to cover the full year fixed cost increases or to maintain the hiring and overtime levels beyond December to improve service.”

SSA serves nearly 64 million people through retirement and disability benefits, but its technology capabilities have recently come under fire for failing to do a seemingly simple task: offer services digitally.

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According to the agency’s blog post, the White House’s FY2023 budget request of $14.8 billion – a $1.4 billion increase over the agency’s FY 2022 funding – “would allow us to improve customer service and offer the service experience you deserve.”

The agency claims it has faced years of underfunding which in turn has led to a severe staff shortage. Currently, the agency is operating with 4,000 fewer employees since prior to the pandemic – marking a seven percent drop.

Because SSA has focused resources on hiring, it has been unable to fully focus on IT projects and modernization, the agency said.

Customers have felt the effects of SSA’s staffing shortage, with an average of over six months of wait time for an agency decision on an initial disability claim, and over 30 minutes to speak to a representative over the phone.

The agency said that a larger, full-year budget for FY 2023 will allow it to continue to deliver services like administering social security cards, dispersing benefits, or establishing insurance  like Medicare.

“Our employees strive to provide you compassionate and timely service but cannot do so without a budget that allows for significant improvement. Without additional funding in FY 2023, we would be forced to freeze hiring, cut overtime, and cut funding for our IT investments,” the agency said.

The SSA continued, “It is critical that we have the resources to restore staffing losses and continue our important IT investments or face years of deteriorating services that you will not and should not accept. We must be able to provide timely and quality service to everyone who depends on us.”

As FY2022 ended on Sept. 30, Congress passed a short-term spending bill to fund agencies through Dec. 16 at the existing FY2022 levels. Reaching agreement on full-year FY2023 spending is at the top of lawmakers’ to-do lists before the short-term funding runs out.

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.